Golf is more than a game to Padraig Harrington — it’s a life’s work
The top player in golf isn’t in the Northern Trust Open field this week at Riviera Country Club and his name isn’t Tiger Woods.
Rory Mcllroy, the Northern Ireland four-club clover who is still ahead of No. 2 Woods in the World Golf Rankings, took a pass on Pacific Palisades, as did Woods.
That still leaves the 144-player field with two rovers with Irish roots.
Graeme McDowell, also from Northern Ireland, makes his 2013 tour debut this week. McDowell was the winner of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
The other is Padraig Harrington, from the Republic of Ireland, who blazed the Irish trail by winning three majors in 2007 and 2008.
Harrington, 41, is now officially an old soul, still hacking it out against a game that always hacks back.
McIlroy in 20 years could be Harrington, looking at golf in a reflective mirror as he simultaneously insists he is effectively beating back time.
Harrington hasn’t won a PGA Tour event, in America or Europe, since claiming his third major in 2008 at the PGA Championship. He won the British Open in 2007 and ’08.
You can’t get much higher than that, but it’s hard to live in the rafters.
Harrington wears reading glasses now but is conceding nothing else to this week’s field of players, or to golf in general.
“I’m much fitter, stronger, than I was when I came out on tour when I was 24,” he said Tuesday in advance of Thursday’s opening round.
He said he hits the ball farther.
“How long do I think that can go on?” he asked. “My ego says forever.”
He has slipped to No. 48 in the world, but he says that’s just a number.
Golf, he has learned, is so much more than a game. It’s a test of physical endurance and mental gymnastics.
“The tour is far, far, far more than the ability to hit a golf ball,” he said.
He is fascinated by all facets of golf, an almost impossible game played out between the ears over at least four continents.
McIlroy will someday find out what Harrington already knows.
Harrington watches up-and-comers like an old man sitting on a porch.
It’s pretty clear guys like Mcllroy are built for the long run, but Harrington knows there is opportunity and weakness in other ball strikers.
He says, “Wow, there’s another good young kid and the tour is just going to eat him up.”
As good as that young player might be?
“After a while, he’s going to have the same fears that the rest of us have out here,” Harrington said. ". . . He’s going to have to deal with missing cuts, when every week he turned up in college, he nearly won the tournament.”
Harrington says motivation is now the biggest driver in his bag. Lose that and you lose everything.
Motivation keeps him going during golf’s mind-numbing twists and turns.
Harrington must have thought he was back two weeks ago when he shot 17 under par for a top-10 finish at the Phoenix Open. He yukked it up with the rowdy fans, kicking a football into the grandstands on TPC Scottsdale’s par-three 16th hole.
But then, last week, he missed the cut at Pebble Beach after rounds of 72-71-72.
Golf, he knows, is impossible to conquer or defuse.
He enters play this week on a major-ready course he says perfectly fits his eye.
Harrington thinks Riviera could stage a U.S. Open with a month’s lead time if emergency orders came through tomorrow from the USGA.
“The course is big enough and strong enough that it can dictate the scores to the players at times,” Harrington said.
Yet, for all the love, Harrington isn’t exactly threatening Ben Hogan for Riviera supremacy. After finishing seventh and tied for third on his first two trips, Harrington missed the cut twice and finished 55th and 44th the last two years.
Harrington attributes his problems at Riviera to the event’s falling so early in the PGA Tour season.
“You just make mental errors, at times you mis-club, you do a few silly things that maybe in the middle of the season you wouldn’t do,” Harrington said.
Unlike McIlroy and Woods, the world’s top two golfers, Harrington is here to attack the kikuyu grass.
“It’s completely mental at the end of the day,” Harrington said of his sport.
That is golf’s one great, redeeming constant: There’s always another day.
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